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Lower average yields but similar yield variability in organic versus conventional horticulture. A meta-analysis

Lesur-Dumoulin C., Malézieux E., Ben-Ari T., Langlais C., Makowski D.. 2017. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 37 (5) : 12 p..

DOI: 10.1007/s13593-017-0455-5

Organic agriculture prohibits the use of almost all synthetic inputs and it is expected to have lower impacts on natural resources than conventional agriculture. However, previous meta-analyses have shown that yields in organic systems are in average 8 to 25% lower compared with conventional systems. Here, we focus on horticulture (fruits and vegetables) and we refine our knowledge by characterising the distributions of organic and conventional yields both in terms of average yield loss and in terms of variability across experiments and across years. We built a new dataset including 636 ratios of organic versus conventional yields covering 37 horticultural species and 17 countries and estimated (i) mean yield ratios, (ii) yield ratio probability distribution across experiments and (iii) interannual yield variances in organic and conventional systems. Our results show that yields in organic horticulture are indeed on average 10 to 32% lower than those in conventional horticulture but they exhibit large variation across experiments. An analysis of yield ratio probability distribution shows that yield loss in organic horticulture has about 10% chances to exceed 50% compared to conventional systems. The analysis gives also around 20% chances to get higher yields in organic horticulture compared to conventional systems. None of the tested covariates (e.g. crop type, climate zone) was able to explain a significant part of the yield ratio variability. We find no evidence of a larger interannual variability (i.e. lower yield stability) in organic versus conventional horticulture. Longer-term trials could nonetheless help substantiate this result. Our results support also the needs to conduct new experiments in countries from the Southern Hemisphere and to collect standard data on crop management and environmental characteristics.

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